RCMP 'picking on men' with request for his fingerprints, Toronto teacher charges

A highly respected Toronto educator, who pioneered programming for gifted students during a 30-year career with the Toronto District Catholic School Board, is questioning the need for him to provide fingerprints to the RCMP to teach an elective course at a private school.

Otto Schmidt, 67, upset with request related to pardoned sex offender registry

The RCMP sometimes requires fingerprints from a person who is undergoing what's known as a vulnerable sector screening, which is needed by people to work with the elderly, children and people with disabilities.

A highly respected Toronto educator, who pioneered programming for gifted students during a 30-year career with the Toronto District Catholic School Board, is questioning the need for him to provide fingerprints to the RCMP to teach an elective course at a private school.

Otto Schmidt, 67, who is now retired but is listed by the Ontario College of Teachers as a teacher in good standing since 1971, reached out to CBC Toronto after learning about the RCMP's request.

A letter he received from Toronto police said the requirement stems from the "match of your gender and date of birth to their pardoned sex offender registry."

Schmidt, who retired in 2002 but has continued to work in education ever since, thinks he's being discriminated against.

"Obviously they're picking on men. And secondly, it's date of birth," he told CBC Toronto.  

"Are all the men in the country or province or whatever going to be selected to hand in their fingerprints?"

Otto Schmidt worked for the Toronto Catholic District School Board from 1971 to 2002 and is a pioneer in educational programming for gifted students. (Otto Schmidt)

Fingerprint screening

The problem started when the school that had hired him asked for what's known as a vulnerable sector screening, which is required for work with children, the elderly and people with disabilities. The one he had after he retired had lapsed so Schmidt applied to the Toronto Police Service.

He received the letter in return advising him of the RCMP's requirement of fingerprints.

"So I'm told because I'm a male and I have a certain birthday that I am somehow or other involved in their pardoned sex offender registry," he said.

Pardoned sex offender registry

The Toronto Police Service requests fingerprints whenever the applicant's gender and birth date "matches to an existing pardoned sexual offence record."

I have done absolutely nothing wrong.- Otto Schmidt, Toronto educator

According to Toronto Police Service policy, "this is not an accusation of criminality, but is required to verify the person's identity and to protect personal privacy."

Once the cross-check happens, the RCMP said the fingerprints are destroyed.

But Schmidt says he "just cannot believe that," and he's taking a stand against a system he says is seriously flawed.

'The machine of the RCMP'

"I'm not going into the machine of the RCMP. I don't trust them. I don't trust all of the spying that's already going on with the general public," Schmidt said.

He pointed to high-profile whistleblowers Edward Snowden and Wikileaks, "We know that the CIA and all the major spying outfits are also connected to the RCMP."

However, he does say he's willing to go to Toronto Police headquarters and cooperate with a background check.

"I have done absolutely nothing wrong," he told CBC Toronto. 

"Anybody is welcome to check up on me. If the police do the vulnerable sectors screening they will not find me anywhere in their records or files. Hundred per cent guaranteed."

They're picking on men.- Otto Schmidt, Toronto educator

Schmidt said other men at the private school submitted their fingerprints for vulnerable sector screening.

And John Yan, spokesperson for the Toronto Catholic District School Board, said with close to 14,000 employees, "we run into those situations more often than you think that police ask for secondary proof."

Public safety law

The law requiring fingerprints for some vulnerable sector screening changed in 2010 after a pardon for Graham James, the former junior hockey coach convicted of sexually assaulting young players, made headlines.

James was released from prison following his conviction in the late 1990s and was pardoned by the National Parole Board in 2007 but no one knew because pardons were sealed records.

Letter Otto Schmidt received from Toronto Police Services informing him of the RCMP's requirement of fingerprints. (Otto Schmidt)

In 2010, Supt. Chuck Walker, director of field services for the Canadian Police Information Centre, said ''a criminal records check won't reveal the existence of a conviction for which a pardon's been granted. That's the whole idea.''

When the law changed, fingerprints were required to ensure "the accuracy of the identification process," as it relates to those wanting work with vulnerable populations, according to the RCMP.

As of March 2000, the Ministry of Public Safety said there were more than 234,000 pardons granted since 1970. The pardoned individuals had satisfied the conditions of a criminal sentence and had been "crime free" for three to five years.

It's unclear from the ministry's website whether all of the individuals are related to sexual offences, though the statistic is included in a section titled, "Pardoned sex offenders in Canada: What do we know?"

International traveller

As a frequent international traveller with recent education work in Sri Lanka, Schmidt says he's also worried about crossing borders if he submits fingerprints for a request related to the pardoned sex offender registry.

"This fingerprint business is absolutely new to me. I just wonder how many other people have received letters like this," he said.

As for the current course he's gearing up to teach at the private school, he said he was supposed to be training two teachers in a class of 22 students for an hour and a half over eight weeks.

Now he might be conducting it via Skype.

He refers to the dilemma he's in now as a "Catch 22" that will leave people wondering what he's trying to hide.

"If I do it, I go into the machine. If I don't do it, then I look bad,"